Breaking Bad at the Pharmacy

April 25, 2014

By Medical Discovery News


Drug abuse is not confined to street drugs like methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine. America is facing an epidemic of prescription drug abuse, particularly with pain relievers, depressants, and stimulants. In 2010, 7 million Americans abused prescription drugs every month.

People are able to abuse such medications by taking medicines prescribed for someone else, using them in excess, or by taking them in a way not prescribed, such as crushing and snorting pills or liquefying and injecting them to hasten the effects needed to produce a high.

Depressants, sedatives, and tranquilizers are abused by more than 2.5 million people each month. The mood-altering drug Zoloft ranks sixth on the list of abused pharmaceuticals and earned more than $500 million in sales. It is prescribed for depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder. The 10th most abused prescription drug is Xanax (alprazolam), called Xany, blue footballs, Xanybars, or just bars on the street. Xanax had sales of almost $275 million in 2012. This drug is intended to treat anxiety or panic disorders. It is often abused because it creates what is described as a sense of wellbeing, but can be fatal when abused.

The sleeping pills Ambien and Lunesta are the fourth and seventh most abused drugs from the pharmacy, with sales of $670 and $450 million respectively in 2012. Both are used to treat difficulties falling or staying asleep but can produce hallucinations when abused. Tom Brokaw of NBC News inadvertently experienced these symptoms from Ambien while covering the last presidential campaign.    

Drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also widely abused, usually by students seeking a way to stay awake and intensely focus on a project or test. Other than marijuana and synthetic marijuana, Adderall is the most-used drug by high school seniors and the eighth most abused prescription drug in the country. Its sales top $400 million. Other stimulants of the central nervous system, Ritalin and Concerta, are the third and fifth most abused pharmaceuticals. Stimulants can have significant side effects like irregular heartbeat, heart failure, seizures, and behavioral changes like paranoia or hostility. 

Some of the most abused drugs are opioid analgesics used clinically as pain relievers. These drugs are involved in 75 percent of all pharmaceutical overdose deaths – more than 16,000 people a year. An estimated 5.1 million people abuse these drugs each month. This included the most abused pharmaceutical drug – Oxycontin. In 2012, sales of this drug reached about $2.5 billion. The second most abused prescription drug, Suboxone, is used as a maintenance treatment for opioid dependence. Its sales brought in almost $1.4 billion. Another opioid, Opana ER (oxymorphone), ranks ninth on the list of most abused pharmaceuticals and is used to treat severe and chronic pain. It earned $300 million in sales in 2012.

Prescription drugs like these are a double-edged sword. They do a lot of good for a lot of people, and many genuinely need them to function. New regulations that govern the use of these drugs, while annoying for people who need them, help limit some of the abusive behavior of those breaking bad.

Study Buddies

By Medical Discovery News

Sept. 29, 2012

Study Buddies

The go-to stimulant to fuel all night study sessions or write a big paper was always caffeine. But now students are tempted by a prescription drug said to be so effective at enhancing mental performance it’s called a cognitive steroid. A recent study revealed 20 percent of college students report having taken Adderall to improve studying and test-taking skills. Some students smoke, snort, or inject the drug for instantaneous focus. But like most easy fixes, it comes with a price: addiction.

Adderall is a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine routinely prescribed to control the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. There are two forms of Adderall: a rapid release pill that lasts four to six hours and the slow release pill that extends the effects for up to 12 hours. It works, in part, by elevating the amount of dopamine in the brain. For those with ADHD, this neurotransmitter is deficient in the frontal cortex where executive functions such as reasoning, planning, focusing, and problem solving take place. Users report first feeling a mild euphoria, which then gives way to a calming sensation and eventually grogginess as it wears off.

In people without ADHD, drugs like Adderall and a similar drug, Ritalin, are appealing because they can enhance mental performance and lower fatigue. Adderall may also increase alertness, concentration, and mental processing speed. When sitting down to a task like writing, users find they are intensely focused and work for long hours, although some say at the cost of creativity. Hence it has become the drug of choice for overachievers. Despite what some believe, these neuroenhancers are not benign.

Many side effects of Adderall aren’t serious, but more severe side effects include aggression, depression, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, fainting, and seizures. Someone who stops taking the drug after using it regularly for more than a few weeks or in high doses will suffer withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, depression, fatigue, hypersomnia, insomnia, paranoia, hyperactivity, irritability, or personality changes. Severe cases of withdrawal can cause psychosis long after Adderall is stopped. Surveys show most college students who abuse Adderall also abuse alcohol and are three times more likely to use marijuana, five times more likely to abuse pain relievers, and eight times more likely to use cocaine or abuse tranquilizers.

Many people may be shocked to learn Adderall is a controlled substance grouped with other highly addictive drugs like cocaine. Addiction treatment centers across the country have programs for Adderall abuse. Possessing it without a prescription is illegal and prosecuted as a felony charge in many states.

Despite the downsides of neuroenhancers, they may have a place in improving human health. As the population ages, cognitive enhancers can improve quality of life and compensate for mental decline. But the long-term effects of these drugs are still unknown and need to be studied so that individuals can make responsible decisions about their use.

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